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What a great year of tennis! With all due respect to Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and their accomplishments, should 2014 be called the year of Stan? He started the year breaking down the door for "the other guys" in Australia and closed by playing his best tennis in months to help Federer win a Davis Cup title. In between he picked up a 1000 title and gave us someone new to talk about. Fail better indeed. Where does Wawrinka go from here?
-- Cainim , North Dakota
• Anyone from North Dakota has a tennis question, we answer it. You raise an interesting point about the Year of Stan. Reflecting on 2014, Novak Djokovic is my MVP. Win a major, reach the final of another, take the World Tour Final trophy (hollow as it was) and finish No.1 -- and it’s hard to pick against anyone else. Despite the absence of a major, Roger Federer’s 2014 was certainly worthy of a toast. On balance, Rafael Nadal didn’t do shabbily either, coming within a bad back of winning two Majors and closing the Slam gap on Federer before his second-half bodily breakdown.
Yet Wawrinka may have had the most intriguing year. It’s not often than a 29-year-old breaks through, but that was the case with the Swiss. After a full decade of playing a stock character in The Big Three, he finally graduated to a leading role. Winning the Aussie Open was part of it, but nearly as significant was what came next: some inexplicable lapses (see: French Open), some dazzling tennis and some Davis Cup heroics. And, above all, a disposition that
said brayed: I belong at the top. The hangdog happy-to-be-here guy -- who long played the role of Federer’s Swiss sidekick, happy to zing his one-handed backhand and make a nice living -- was replaced by a swaggering figure. When Wawrinka officially changed his designation from Stanislas to Stan, it came freighted with meaning. (I’m big enough to care about branding!) And much as it made for tittering gossip, there was something revealing about his public confrontation with the House of Federer last month in London. No way does Wawrinka summon the courage or confidence to initiate that earlier in his career.
Again it’s interesting -- and a sign of the times -- to say this about a guy who turns 30 in a few months. But let’s see where he goes from here, and whether he can alchemize this chest-pumping self-belief into more winning. For the first time ever, he goes to a major as a defending champ.
Me? I admire his emergence. I would still pay for a peepshow of his backhand. I admire an athlete who makes a late-career surge. But I lack of full faith that Wawrinka has another major in him. A full decade of close-but-not-quite matches against DjokoFederdal isn't offset by one major and a top four finish. But there’s no question Wawrinka’s progress or regress, and overall status, will be a big part of the ATP’s 2015 narrative.
Speaking of Wawrinka…
Are you ever going to tell the Nadal/Wawrinka story?
-- G.M., New York
• Ok. So a friend wrote a successful book and was invited to speak at a conference in the U.K. He was compensated handsomely, except there was a hitch: he didn’t receive a check, but rather what amounted to a credit at a British sports book. In other words, in order to get the money, he had to put his credit in play and win a bet.
I digress to say there’s an interesting bit of behavioral economics here. Some of us might consider this voucher a windfall and make some whimsical bet. If it hit -- the Jets to the win the Super Bowl! -- you might literally make millions. It’s all about you perceive the money. There’s a saying in the decision-making community: people who find $20, buy lottery tickets. People who earn $20, buy groceries. (The betting house surely hoped the recipients would choose this option.)
My friend had the opposite instinct: he just wanted his damn money. As such, he wanted as sure a thing as possible. Were it an option, he would have bet on the sun rising in the east or Taylor Swift having at least one song about a breakup on her forthcoming album.
Anyway, on the eve of the Australian Open final, he contacted me. Not a tennis fan, he asked if there were any way in hell Nadal could lose to Wawrinka. I noted their head-to-head record here and that Wawrinka had never even taken a SET from Nadal to date. And added to that: Wawrinka -- famously nervy throughout his career -- was playing in his first major final. With the usual disclaimer (past results do not guarantee future returns) I encouraged my friend to place the bet on Nadal winning the Australian Open final
That night, as Nadal writhed in back pain, I writhed in stomach pain, guilty that, based on my recommendation, my friend had lost a significant amount of money on what supposed to be a low-risk proposition. I apologized profusely before flying home. When I landed in Los Angeles, I had email telling not to worry about it. “Something came up, I got sidetracked and never got around to putting down that bet on Nadal. When does Floyd Mayweather fight next?”
"She knew when to 'wrong foot' opponents? What's that mean?
-- Craig, Seattle
• First, a larger point: like most subcultures, tennis has a lexicon all its own. But -- inasmuch as it’s a goal to elevate the sport from niche-dom -- we could all do better explaining terminology to more casual fans.
Anyway, you might think of “wrong-footing” as tennis’ answer to “breaking ankles.” It is a tactical play, whereby Player A, has an open court, but -- to counter the opponent anticipating -- hits his second back to same spot rather than the obvious pasture of open court.
Maybe it’s better illustrated than described:
I just saw your tweet asking tennis PR to highlight that corruption at Challengers doesn't count (paraphrasing of course). I'm guessing Keith Crossland would disagree with you. If your tweet was intended as sarcasm then I apologize. It didn't seem like sarcasm. This is the type of statement that really bothers me. Integrity is pertinent at any level of the game. If you don't think Challengers matter, look up Keith and ask him if he considers having to decide whether or not to default Agassi from a Nevada Challenger one of the defining situations of his career.
• This is a pet peeve of mine, so thanks for the opening. A few weeks ago, there was a wire report and a solemn email from the ITF and the Tennis Integrity Unit about a corruption issue regarding match fixing, leading to a lifetime ban. This became fairly significant news, flitting across the ticker and making it onto the tennis feed of many general sports sites. Here’s The Guardian. It was top news on the New York Times.
The shorthand: this involved a former player, now a “tennis official.” Per the release, there were “‘16 separate breaches of Section D.1.a of the 2012 and 2013 Programmes,’” which covers betting on any tennis competition. Whoa. Sounds grave, right? Who was the principle? Morgan Lamri of France. Never heard of him? He is a French dee-jay who occasionally played events for fun. Per the ATP, he made a grand total of $72 in prize money.
Let’s be clear: no one is minimizing corruption (at any level) and no one is holding Challenger-level players to lesser standards. Certainly no one is condemning agencies for making these findings public.
It’s the messaging here that needs work. The average media outlet gets a release about “tennis corruption” and doesn’t distinguish between the sport’s upper echelon and Challenger level marginalia. Read the subject of this email and you’re inclined to think the Wimbledon finals have been fixed; read the specifics and you realize that we’re talking about a part-time player who couldn't buy a ticket to most tournaments with his career tennis winnings. This would be akin to Major League baseball sending out a release about baseball corruption, when the culprit was a player in an unaffiliated minor league. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s important to make the point on how far removed this is from the big time.
• Yes, you’ve likely seen this bit of Feder-work. But watch it again:
• Speaking of Federer, seems like he wants to be closer to the French Davis Cup team.
• A (potentially) monster media deal for the WTA.
• Monica Seles and Gabriela Sabatini will face each other in a 25th anniversary rematch of their famed 1990 five-set WTA Championship final in the 2015 BNP Paribas Showdown. Also, Federer will face Grigor Dimitrov and headline the annual tennis showcase on Tuesday, March 10 at Madison Square Garden.
• Where’s Steffi Graf? In India:
• We’re told that Ryan Harrison is back to working with the Aussie coach, Grant Doyle. Harrison, now ranked 190, is desperate to reinvigorate his career.
• Who wants to go running with Serena Williams?
• Press releasing: The Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) has partnered with American tennis legend coach, Brian Gottfried, and the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida.
• This week’s LLS comes Lanka Fernando in Toronto, Canada: Ernests Gulbis and Andrew Luck